There’s belated, then there’s overdue, and then waaaaaay past that there’s “What’s even the point?”
A February 2018 publication of a 2017 Top 10 List essentially falls into the final category, but hey, what the heck. Here it is, for the record: my choices for the Best Films of 2017.
It begins with the Top 10, in ascending order, then continues with my 11 through 20 choices, and concludes with a brief listing of the other movies I really enjoyed throughout the year.
Of the Top 10, you’ll find only three of the films nominated for Best Picture, and a fourth with only one nomination. All of my other favorites landed far outside the 2017 Awards Season conversation, as did all-but-two of my 11 through 20 choices.
This year, Oscar and me just didn’t see eye to eye.
Here are the 30+ films from 2017 that I Can’t Unsee.
(All film titles are linked to my full reviews.)
JEFF HUSTON’S TOP 10 LIST
for the Best Films of 2017
10. It Comes At Night (dir. Trey Edward Shults)
Horror is my least favorite genre, but I’m a sucker for a director in complete control of his craft. Trey Edward Shults is exactly that in his sophomore effort as he takes the atmospheric tension to a whole deeper level, creating an impossible moral quandary that’s a real gut-punch: what happens when your need to survive is challenged by your conscience? You may live, and protect your family too, but you may be unable to live with yourself. (Available to stream now, for free, for Amazon Prime members.)
9. Maudie (dir. Aisling Walsh)
The Shape of Water may be the big Oscar contender starring Sally Hawkins, but this is the better Hawkins movie of 2017 (although it’s a coin flip between the performances). She delivers what might be, quite frankly, the most emotionally powerful turn of the entire year, playing the poor arthritic Canadian who became one of that country’s greatest painters. This human portrait of resolve and grit in the face of life-crippling illness is profoundly moving, eliciting all the feels, and many of cinematographer Guy Godfree‘s painterly images are worth framing. Plus, in the Year of the Woman, director Aisling Walsh and screenwriter Sherry White deserved as much praise as Greta Gerwig.
8. Wonderstruck (dir. Todd Haynes)
Ben lives in 1977. Rose in 1927. He’s in Minnesota, she’s in New Jersey. Both are twelve. Separated by fifty years, their stories unfold in parallel. The one exact thing they share: the same disability. And eventually, they embark on a journey to the same place. Based on the YA book by Brian Selznick, Wonderstruck goes back and forth between each time period, and director Todd Haynes transitions on moments that mirror each other. It’s an absorbing structure, done with subtle grace, and an emotional payoff I wasn’t expecting but which couldn’t have been more perfect. Beautifully made, it’s an art house family film. (Available to stream now, for free, for Amazon Prime members.)
7. Lady Bird (dir. Greta Gerwig)
Like writing a diary in cinematic form, indie actress icon Greta Gerwig stays strictly behind the camera in her solo writing / directing debut. It’s a fictionalized take on her senior year in high school, and while it’s a well-worn genre flick on the surface (a.k.a. a coming-of-age story) it’s so beautifully and exuberantly specific to Gerwig’s own experiences, own world, and own voice that it’s easy to fall for every unironic sentiment. It gushes with emotion, sincerity, and love.
6. Dunkirk (dir. Christopher Nolan)
While not as provocative as Nolan’s best films, this World War II epic swept across the screen on its IMAX scale. But even at home, this inventive approach to the war movie – complete with Nolan’s auteuristic staple of experimenting with time and narrative structure – packs a wallop, resonating even more powerfully on subsequent viewings, right down to its chills-inducing finish.
5. The Big Sick (dir. Michael Showalter)
No genre has suffered more this millennium than the romantic comedy, but The Big Sick makes up for that nearly two-decade dearth in emotionally rewarding spades. Like Lady Bird, it fictionalizes a real experience, too, but husband-and-wife screenwriters Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley), who stars, and Emily V. Gordon do Gerwig one better with a truly one-of-a-kind story. It not only turns on a bizarre health crisis twist but, more deeply, it’s a gracious exploration of clashing cultures and finding common ground in love. (Available to stream now, for free, for Amazon Prime members.)
4. The Lost City of Z (dir. James Gray)
After receiving a mixed reaction from critics in the spring (including me), a re-evaluation of this contemplative epic bears out a striking truth: this is a borderline masterpiece. Comparable to the ambitions of 1970s American cinema, James Gray dramatizes an early 20th Century true story that plays like a serious Indiana Jones movie with philosophical depths. Gray may very well be the most underappreciated director in movies today. If this same exact film had Paul Thomas Anderson on the directing credit, The Lost City of Z would not have been confined to this Top 10 list and a random few others. (Available to stream now, for free, for Amazon Prime members.)
3. A Ghost Story (dir. David Lowery)
The premise of this microbudget experimental indie was the biggest risk of the year: telling the story of a newly-deceased husband, from his ethereal perspective, but depicting him as a bed-sheet ghost, the likes of those low-rent Halloween costumes of yore. In lesser hands, this would’ve been a too-cute gimmick, but for writer / director David Lowery (and stars Casey Affleck, last year’s Best Actor winner, and Rooney Mara) this becomes profound – and profoundly ambitious – as it leaps across the expanse of time to meditate on the cycles of life on one plot of land. To hear the concept it’s a tough sell, but man does Lowery pull it off. Low-scale though it may be, this is a monumental achievement – and Ghost Neighbor is hashtag-heartbreaking. (Available to stream now, for free, for Amazon Prime members.)
2. Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele)
If Lowery’s Ghost Story concept may have been a tough sell, then Jordan Peele‘s horror-story-cum-racism-parable is an inspired stroke of pure and obvious genius, but one so specific and daring that it leveled the first-time writer/director the highest degree of difficulty. Well, Peele stuck the landing in groundbreaking fashion. On first viewing, it was clear that Get Out (and its target of white liberal elites as villains, not backwoods confederate hicks) was revolutionary and relevant. On second viewing, while gleefully enamored by its studied, timeless film language and precise Hitchcockian aesthetics, I realized that Get Out is more than revolutionary. It’s an all-time classic.
1. Hostiles (dir. Scott Cooper)
If James Gray is the most underrated American filmmaker working today, then Scott Cooper is a very close second. In his fourth feature film, Cooper has not only made a towering piece of cinema (Western or otherwise), but Hostiles is a powerful and profound meditation on our nation’s history, sins, and character, yet done with grace rather than judgment. It didn’t have a 2017 social justice hook to attract more critical raves or Oscar buzz, but it’s so much bigger, grander, and resonant than that. Hostiles is about the American soul, the one we were founded on and forged in, and the one that – even as we progress – will be with us as forever. We won’t be able to wipe away those scars, but this humble, riveting epic shows us how we can heal them.
Here’s that list again, this time in simple descending order:
- Get Out
- A Ghost Story
- The Lost City of Z
- The Big Sick
- Lady Bird
- It Comes At Night
Some thoughts on my 11 through 20:
11. Spider-Man: Homecoming (dir. Jon Watts) – the best Marvel movie ever made.
12. Stronger (dir. David Gordon Green) – the story of the most famous survivor from the Boston Marathon bombing, Stronger deconstructs the notion of what a hero is, and what we shouldn’t burden our heroes with. Along with Hostiles, it boasts the year’s best acting ensemble completely ignored by the Oscars.
13. Personal Shopper (dir. Olivier Assayas) – a haunting, riveting character study that, in effect, is a parable for lead actress Kristen Stewart‘s life and career.
14. The Dinner (dir. Oren Moverman) – this dark character-driven chamber piece drama is a riveting night of live theatre, led by comic Steve Coogan of all people, that just happened to be projected on movie screens.
15. Columbus (dir. Kogonada) – a much more patient, simple, and contemplative directorial debut than Jordan Peele‘s Get Out but as equally accomplished, and with some of the best cinematography of the year.
16. Darkest Hour (dir. Joe Wright) – Wright takes a stagey script and makes it more cinematic than it has any right to be, and Gary Oldman (as Winston Churchill) is the very definition of tour-de-force. A powerhouse collaboration between actor and director.
17. Phantom Thread (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson) – it’s hard to take this tale of obsession seriously, given that it occurs in the protective bubble of a white male’s elite privilege, but what a lush piece of cinema. Set in 1950 London, it’s like PTA’s homage to Old Hollywood (from Douglas Sirk to Alfred Hitchcock) and a worthy final performance from the retiring Daniel Day-Lewis.
18. The Florida Project (dir. Sean Baker) – an often uncomfortable but ultimately empathetic look at contemporary poverty in America (with striking images on a low budget to boot), this movie stays honest while also challenging our innate class prejudices. Willem Dafoe embodies this very dynamic, sincerely living a moral ideal while constantly having it challenged, and should win the Oscar for it.
19. Blade Runner 2049 (dir. Denis Villeneuve) – at a time when fan service would’ve been enough, Denis Villeneuve honors and expands the 1982 original with a provocative continuation; character arcs and themes both resonate. Absolutely stunning visuals as well.
20. Good Time (dir. The Safdie Brothers) – this gritty, hallucinatory New York set crime thriller may prove Benny and Josh Safdie to be millennial Scorseses, and Robert Pattinson to be an actor who can transform himself in continually surprising ways.
- Molly’s Game, the directorial debut of Oscar-winning writer Aaron Sorkin. I used to feel that Sorkin’s hyper-ambitious style was best realized when it was constrained and focused by great directors (like David Fincher in The Social Network), but this proves that Sorkin can finally temper his indulgences just enough to make a mesmerizing high-octane experience that’s a serious piece of filmmaking, too.
- Step, about low-income minority female students in Baltimore who strive to overcome their station in life, with the guidance of some truly inspiring women. An emotional and relevant documentary for the whole family. (Available to rent on Amazon.)
And finally, the rest of the movies I really enjoyed and / or respected, in alphabetical order:
The Beguiled, Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reyonlds, Coco, Colossal, Faces Places, First They Killed My Father, Ghost in the Shell, The Greatest Showman, The Hero, Kong: Skull Island, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Mudbound, The Salesman, Smurfs: The Lost Village, Wonder, Wonder Woman